• Birth—April 28, 1926
• Where—Monroeville, Alabama, USA
• Education—B.A. (later studied law), University of Alabama
• Awards—Pulitzer Prize, 1961; Presidential Medal of Freedom, 2007
• Currently—Monroevill, Alabama; New York City
Harper Lee, known to friends and family as Nelle, was born in the small southwestern Alabama town of Monroeville, Alabama, on April 28, 1926, the youngest of four children. Her father, a former newspaper editor and proprietor, was a lawyer who also served on the state legislature from 1926 to 1938. As a child, Lee was a tomboy and a precocious reader, and enjoyed the friendship of her schoolmate and neighbor, the young Truman Capote.
While pursuing a law degree at the University of Alabama, she wrote for several student publications and spent a year as editor of the campus humor magazine, Ramma-Jamma. Though she did not complete the law degree, she pursued studies for a summer in Oxford, England, before moving to New York in 1950, where she worked as a reservation clerk with Eastern Air Lines and BOAC in New York City. Lee continued working as a reservation clerk until the late 50s, when she resolved to devote herself to writing.
She lived a frugal lifestyle, traveling between her cold-water-only apartment in New York to her family home in Alabama to care for her ailing father. Having written several long stories, Harper Lee located an agent in November 1956. The following month at the East 50th townhouse of her friends writer Michael Brown and Joy Williams Brown, she received a gift of a year's wages with a note: "You have one year off from your job to write whatever you please. Merry Christmas." Within a year, she had a first draft. Working closely with J. B. Lippincott & Co. editor Tay Hohoff, she completed To Kill a Mockingbird in the summer of 1959.
Published July 11, 1960, To Kill a Mockingbird was an immediate bestseller and won her great critical acclaim, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1961. It remains a bestseller today, with over 30 million copies in print. In 1999, it was voted "Best Novel of the Century" in a poll conducted by the Library Journal.
After completing To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee accompanied Capote to Holcomb, Kansas, to assist him in researching what they thought would be an article on a small town's response to the murder of a farmer and his family. Capote expanded the material into his best-selling book, In Cold Blood (1966). The experiences of Capote and Lee in Holcomb were depicted in two different films, Capote (2005) and Infamous (2006).
Lee said of the 1962 Academy Award–winning screenplay adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird by Horton Foote: "If the integrity of a film adaptation can be measured by the degree to which the novelist's intent is preserved, Mr. Foote's sceen-play should be studied as a classic." She also became a close friend of Gregory Peck, who won an Oscar for his portrayal of Atticus Finch, the father of the novel's narrator, Scout. She remains close to the actor's family. Peck's grandson, Harper Peck Voll, is named after her.
In June 1966, Lee was one of two persons named by President Lyndon B. Johnson to the National Council on the Arts. On May 21, 2006, she accepted an honorary degree from the University of Notre Dame. To honor her, the graduating seniors were given copies of Mockingbird before the ceremony and held them up when she received her degree. In a letter published in Oprah Winfrey's magazine O (May 2006), Lee wrote about her early love of books as a child and her steadfast dedication to the written word: "Now, 75 years later in an abundant society where people have laptops, cell phones, iPods and minds like empty rooms, I still plod along with books." In 2007 she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush. (Adapted from Wikipedia.)
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